For the discerning drinker, Brandy – specifically Cognac, is the most refined and noble expression of digestif distillates: Whisky has more romance but is an untamed savage next to Cognac’s urbane sophistication. Grappa, remains as was always so, the preserve of the peasantry. However for something a little different for your next evening gathering of dilettantes, rather than enjoying a Brandy after dinner (or if in the Tropics, before with Soda) why not try drinking Cognac throughout? Below are notes from a recent such soiree, after a brief introduction to this most patrician of grape spirits:
The best of the region comes from the Coeur de Cognac, Grande and Petite Champagne, from the Latin ‘campagna’ – chalk, and one finds correspondingly mineral terroirs in the chalk-enriched soils of Champagne, Chablis and the Coeur de Cognac. The pinnacle of achievement from the latter is possibly found in Remy Martin’s Louis XIII, recently topped by the release of a Louis XIII Rare Cask – the world’s most devastatingly exclusive and expensive Brandy. From a single and singular barrel (that had uniquely and inexplicably achieved 43.8 alcohol as opposed to the usual 40), the contents have been meticulously nurtured and now bottled in a series of 786 Baccarat black crystal decanters. These limited edition releases are, whilst not priceless, unrivalled in expense.
Whilst I am looking forward to reporting back on the exquisite nuances of this particular rarity, in the interim I suggest Beyond Black readers try the following distinctive and surprisingly effective pairings to create a novel and stimulating dinner party:
Remy Martin Cognacs and Pairing suggestions:
VSOP – a blend of 240-wines, with 4-14yrs barrel age. Top floral notes of violets, some vanilla and caramel, ripe peach and traces of nutmeg leads to a burnished palate, aniseed and apricot and some of the chalk coming through to give a mineral drive to the finish.
Works surprisingly well with Roquefort which emphasises the Cognac’s creamy and nutty tones and, unlike more traditional matching with sweeter Sauternes or Tokaji dessert wines, the VSOP doesn’t mask the cheese’s character but rather lifts it.
Served chilled – ironically given the almost-iconoclasm of cold Brandy, it tastes like the smell of an old church (some polished leather, old wood, lingering incense) so that you can almost taste the walls of the cellar. With smoked salmon blinis a rich oiliness and the smoky character is more easily discerned.
XO – from 350 blended wines between 10-37yrs old. This was darker-toned, edgier, flirting with nature’s more illicit recesses, like a Saki short story; Pan – remotely mischievous. Wild flowers, irises, elder, and then passionfruit, cinnamon buns, a touch of brioche moving on the palate to preserved lemons, gingerbread and liquorice. The XO is as pungent as an old forest in spring with remarkable freshness , lively fruit and floral components, overlying a much older, deeper complexity. Not more concentrated than the VSOP – just more elegant and nuanced, it expands in both directions – at once more deft and light-footed but also more serious and complex. Good with bitter black chocolate or a Cohiba Siglo VI or both, or even Foie Gras.
Coeur de Cognac – a new blend from the house – of both Grande and Petite Champagne sites (so Fine) which prefers a more feminine, delicate composition – this is Brandy removed from the fishbowl goblet, and the smoky recesses of Gentlemens’ Clubs. Elegant but with very ripe fruits and vanilla pod tones, very pleasant served chilled with Tarte Tatin and a white chocolate sauce.
Coming Up: Rendevouz Remy Martin – the ultimate luxury visit to the Chateau culminating in a tasting experience of the famous Louis XIII Cognac
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